“That is not a question I normally get asked.”
The above was the initial response from the Estate Agent for our new rental property responding to our enquiry about using the garage as a workshop in which to build a plane. She’s probably right that it’s not a standard criterion for house-selection.
In November 2015, we moved from our flat to a larger house with a garage that could be repurposed as a workshop to allow us to start the RV-14 build. More space comes at a price, of course, so it meant we needed to move away from our commuter town into the Kent countryside and significantly increase the ‘faff factor’ in our journeys to work. We may live to regret that decision when sitting in traffic every morning, but it is a beautiful place to live and for now we feel it’s totally worth it!
When viewing the property, we noticed that the garage had been used for storage by the previous tenants, and evidently had not been particularly well looked-after. Before signing on the dotted line, we asked the agent if she could check whether the landlord would mind us doing some tidying up, basic damp-proofing and sealing of the walls and floor so that we could use the space as a workshop, as well as adding shelves and storage. He didn’t have any objections – after all, we are improving the space and nothing we do will mean it can’t be used as a garage in the future.
I’d kept things vague to avoid a complicated conversation, but when the agent asked the reason for our request, I said that we were going to us the garage to build a plane. “Right.” she said, “Have either of you actually got a pilot’s license?”. I explained that J did and I was working on it, and whilst she admitted that our plans now made a bit more sense, she wasn’t prepared to concede more than that. Fair enough. Perhaps we will send her a picture if we ever manage to finish it…!
The reality of creating a workshop out of a slightly downtrodden garage is a little scary in the cold light of day. It was made more so by the fact that J disappeared to the US for a business trip a few days after we moved, so I decided to tackle it alone in the hope we could begin to play with tools and bits of metal once he got back.
I was working full time during the days, so most of my tasks on the workshop were completed in the evenings. I think I provoked a fair amount of curiosity from neighbours and dog walkers on the green by creating strange sounds, lights and smells at odd times of the day!
The first job was to remove a significant volume of mud and concrete dust from the floor in order to paint it with sealant. The garage had had heavy use and significant water ingress from a combination of an unsealed floor and a blocked drainage channel, so the entire floor area was covered in about an inch of solid mud. I considered various tactics for removing it and eventually decided to start by digging it out with a spade, which took several hours and made a lot of noise scraping, so I had to keep to socially acceptable times of day. I was amused to note that a mole – which had been digging steadily in a line towards the garage during the previous week – changed direction and started going the other way after two evenings of constant noise!
After scraping up the worst of the mud and digging out the drainage channel to (hopefully) avoid a repeat flood every time it rained, I spent the next couple of days pouring water over the back of the garage and sweeping it out to the front, washing off the stubborn areas of mud that had refused to be scraped. Once the water was coming out slightly less murky (I initially wrote ‘clean’, and then changed my mind…), I left it to dry before sweeping out a few more times. I eventually realised that concrete is one of those wonderful materials that will be dusty however much you sweep, so I decided it was as clean as it was ever likely to be, and began painting with the sealant.
Items I discovered in the mud:
- Glitter glue pen
- Small plastic toy axe
- Legoland membership card
- Magazine front cover from 2005
- Drinking straw
- Chocolate bar wrappers
- A large number of unimpressed earthworms
The sealant was very effective (Ronseal ‘one-coat concrete seal’ for anyone that’s interested…) but extremely stinky – it’s solvent-based and definitely needs a well-ventilated space. This is something I discovered in retrospect after spending an evening slightly high after painting most of the floor. Windows and door wide open next time, and I put a fan on for good measure!
Once the floor was fully sealed, the next thing to tackle was the cobwebs on the ceiling – at a guess I would say it’s a good 4-5 years since those were last removed. Luckily I haven’t inherited my Mum’s terror when it comes to arachnids, but that isn’t to say I enjoy getting up close and personal with them! I decided that the hoover was the way to go (it also meant I could reach!) and spent about 2hrs getting the worst of them down. Thankfully most of the spiders I dislodged were dead, but I learned reasonably quickly that it was inadvisable to stand directly under the area I was currently hoovering, just in case!
I think I re-housed about 100 spiders in total, and the following day there were a few running around on the floor looking confused as to where their homes had gone – sorry guys! I also came face to face with the terrifying false widow spider (‘Britain’s most venomous’…) that has prompted so many Daily Mail headlines this year. It ran away from me, and I’m pleased to report that my leg did not swell up to DOUBLE its normal size, nor did I feel as though I had been hit by a LIGHTNING BOLT. Phew.
It was only the following morning when my brother and I popped into the garage for some firewood that I realised I had uncovered a wasps’ nest that had been hiding behind all the cobwebs. It was about the size of a fist, so not particularly advanced, but I was keen to remove it for obvious reasons. A comical scene ensued whereby I prodded it with the extended arm of the hoover whilst he levered the garage door up and down to catch it and bat it outside just in case we angered anything in the process of knocking it down. After creeping up on it with some trepidation, we discovered that the wasps were all dead, so we got rid of it somewhat sheepishly and continued with our day.
Once the sealant was dry, I covered the floor with a special paint to toughen it and make it look nicer. As we already had a fair bit of workshop kit stored on the garage along with firewood and our bikes, each bit of painting and sealing was done in stages – working around the items, waiting for the paint to dry and them shifting them across in order to paint the bit they’ve been sitting in.
Whilst J was away and unable to help with the preparations in the workshop, he kept me busy with a steady stream of packages containing tools and appliances we’d need for the build. I actually asked him to slow down after the volume of things stored in the garage started to interfere with the logistics of my painting. I’ll write about the various tools and appliances as we go along – suffice it to say that there are many where I still need to work out what they’re for!
When J returned from his trip, we spent the weekend building two solid wooden workbenches from scratch, following plans from the EAA website which have been developed with aircraft homebuilders in mind. They went together surprisingly well and weren’t even that wobbly – still, it’s a giant leap from creating two bulky wooden tables to building an aeroplane!
Tools packed away, benches at the ready, we just had to wait for sign off to get on with the build…
My one regret in the process is that I didn’t take a proper ‘before’ photo with all the mud and spiderwebs. Here’s the finished space ready to go:
- Wasps’ nests removed: 1
- Spiders re-housed: > 100
- Earthworms dislodged: > 20
- Moles angered: 1
- Volume of mud removed: 0.6 metres cubed (admittedly a crude estimate, but J hasn’t criticised my maths yet so it’s staying!)